ME: You've been doing your homework, Taran (Laughs). To continue with Apogee, I met my tutor, mentor and friend, Leonard "Lenny Nelson when Apogee played at the Boston YMCA. Lenny sat in the very first row in front of my drums. I recall dropping a drumstick at one point during the show. Lenny picked it up and gave it back to me. A police officer stood outside the room. Lenny told me the police officer would come in and listen for a few minutes, and then he would walk out of the room shaking his head. He didn't understand the music we were playing. I had seen Lenny on the streets or coming out of bookstores before I started working in the Combat Zone. We would always say hello to each other. At the time, I didn't know he was an exceptionally talented musician. Lenny felt that when I played with Apogee, I was the right drummer for the band. "Marc, when you're on your own turf, no one can touch you. You are a king in that band!
Lenny also hung out with Milford Graves during the sixties one summer. I heard Milford talk about Lenny during a radio interview on Columbia University's WKCR. Milford Graves and I are the only two drummers who talk about Lenny Nelson. Many well known jazz drummers either know Lenny personally or have heard of Lenny, yet they refuse to talk about him. What's up with that? Lenny knows more about jazz drumming than any drummer I've met. He also played in the Combat Zone at a club across the street called The Piccadilly. I had the chance to see Lenny in action on many nights. I got off from the Two O' Clock Lounge in the evening. Lenny didn't start working at the Piccadilly until 8 PM. I would head back downtown and hang out with Lenny. We would talk about drums during his breaks. Sometimes Lenny would let me play a set. I did fill in for him when Lenny needed to take time off. The ladies at this club were more mature than some of the ladies at the Two O' Clock Lounge. I was interested in one young lady at the Piccadilly. I later learned that she made an adult film after I had moved back to New York. Had I dated her, my life would be very different today.
We would head for the Jazz Workshop after he finished for the night. Lenny would secretly record the set and we'd sit in his car while he would break down what Elvin and other drummers were doing. Lenny has a keen musical ear. He can figure out what drummers are playing. This process would go on for hours. We'd go to his car and finish talking around two, three, or four in the morning. I didn't have to report for work until 2 PM. I would sleep late the next day. I had studied with Alan Dawson, but it was Lenny Nelson who rounded out my sound. This was similar to taking a rough marble sculpture, polishing it, and making the image more attractive.
My sound continues to grow and evolve and some of that credit belongs to Lenny Nelson. He's one of the great drummers in the Boston area. He once told me that when he retires, he plans to start teaching. I hope the Berklee College of Music adds this man to their staff when it is convenient for Lenny. As I said before, I've never met anyone as knowledgeable about the drums as Lenny Nelson. That will be a great day in Boston when that happens. I also met drummer Bobby Ward. Bobby's drumming is a reflection of his personality. He talks fast and plays drums very fast in the Buddy Rich sense of the word. He was hanging out with Lenny and some of the others drummers who worked at the other clubs in the Combat Zone one night. It was a rare gathering of most of the drummers working in the Combat Zone. The Combat Zone was Boston's equivalent of 42nd Street during the sixties. There were lots of sex clubs along Washington Street. That's how 42nd Street area used to be until city officials decided to clean up the theater district. Some of the hookers would hassle theater goers as they were leaving the shows. That was the last straw and 42nd Street began changing from that day forward.
Bobby demonstrated something that he likes to play. Bobby showed us, but he played it at the speed of light, super fast. No one could pick it up. Harvey, a white drummer from Canada, had the courage to ask Bobby to play the figure at a much slower speed. "Slow it down Bobby. Bobby complied, but it wasn't enough. "Slow it down some more Bobby, and we were able to get it. I have since forgotten that particular rhythm since I wasn't able to incorporate into what it is that I'm doing in free jazz. Bobby Ward remains active on the Boston scene today and I think he writes some of pieces for the band he's working in. I have one of his albums in my CD collection. He works with saxophonist flutist Henry Cook frequently in the Boston area.
It is very important for musicians to continue increasing their knowledge about the instruments they play in public. I maintain contact with Lenny Nelson even to the present day. We haven't spoken in a long time, so, he's due for another long phone call. Whatever success I enjoy in this lifetime will be due to Lenny Nelson's influential drumming concepts. I can apply some of Lenny's concept easily into free jazz. I hope he gets recognition on some level before he dies. He is one of the true unsung heroes in jazz. Lenny also studied with Alan Dawson. I'm also intrigued by master frame drummer Glen Velez's mesmerizing work. His studies have been very useful improving my drumming; however, I don't think I will get into the frame drum as is the case with Hamid Drake. I want to master the drum kit, plain and simple.
After Gene Ashton left Apogee, we did try other musicians while we were in New York City. I recall William Parker doing a rehearsal with us. I was playing a particular idea which I noticed seemed to throw William off. After the rehearsal, I told David, I should have asked William, if what I was playing was messing with his head. David had a good laugh when he heard this. He couldn't stop laughing. We also had trumpeter Arthur Williams for a rehearsal or two. We settled on trumpeter Raphé Malik. class="f-right"> Return to Index...
David S. Ware and Sonny Rollins
AAJ: I hear that David S. Ware and Sonny Rollins are great friends. Can you shed more light on this?
ME: David has a long standing relationship with Sonny Rollins. David talks about this in an All About Jazz interview. As I recall it, David met Sonny Rollins when he was a young boy. He followed Newk's career. At one point, they got together in a rehearsal room and played together. Just the two of them playing the tenor saxophone. I have heard the cassette tapes and you could hardly tell the difference between David S. Ware and Sonny Rollins. Their relationship goes back a long way, covering many years. This relationship is the reason Newk allowed Apogee to open for him at the Village Vanguard. I don't know of any other free musician that has a relationship like this (with a well known inside player). It's too bad Newk's busy schedule keep them from making an album together. That would be interesting.
AAJ: Yeah that'd be great. Could you describe the gig at the Village Vanguard?
ME: I was always in awe of Sonny Rollins. He's worked with many of the key figures in jazz. I arrived early since I had to setup my drums. When David arrived, I told Newk, "David's here. Newk was sitting down warming up on his horn. I touch him gently on his knee. Newk acknowledged but kept on playing. "He's totally into the music, I thought to myself. David, Gene and I really put on a show. Most of the members in Newk's band, save one, dug what we were playing. Ntozake Shange came and she wanted to read her poetry. David told her no. She and David fell out after that. There was a big misunderstanding. I have no idea how that happened. Shange went on to write a very successful play that ran on Broadway. The name of the play was For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf .
Max Gordon kept flicking the lights off and on, trying to get us to stop, but we kept on playing regardless. Max Gordon would do the same when David and I would join the Cecil Taylor Unit a few years later. When we started our set at the Vanguard, I began playing very loudly. Sonny Rollins immediately got up and went into the kitchen. After our short set, I was sweating very profusely as I entered the kitchen. A musician was talking to Newk. Both men seemed very pleased with our playing. Our eyes met while I was changing T-shirts. I said to Newk, "It's hard work to play this music. "That's what it takes, was Newk's reply. class="f-right"> Return to Index...
Cecil Taylor Unit
AAJ: Max Gordon kept flicking the light off and on? He did this when you were with Cecil Taylor?